Over the weekend, a 27-year-old man in Jacksonville, Florida was arrested and charged for allegedly driving a van through a tent where supporters of President Donald Trump were registering people to vote. Though thankfully no one was hurt, this incident would seem to provide another troubling example of unacceptable political violence.
“We are sick and tired of our volunteers — here in Jacksonville and across America — having to be afraid because of the hat they chose to wear, or the shirt they put on that day, or because they went to register voters, or because they went to support the candidate of their choice,” said Dean Black, the chairman of the Republican Party of Duval County. That is wrong, that is un-American, and that has to stop.”
That sentiment should be shared by everyone engaging in the political process — and across our society — as we head closer to what is sure to be an overwhelmingly contentious election full of accusations, misinformation and open hostility. Even with that guaranteed backdrop, America cannot let its political discourse devolve into violence.
“We draw a line in the sand, right here, right now. Because if this is where we begin this election, where in God’s name would it end?” Black asked. “The answer to that question is unthinkable, it’s unspeakable. Let us resolve right now that this be the last act of political violence in this election, and ever. ”
It shouldn’t take a senseless act like what allegedly happened in Florida to bring this message to the forefront. And unfortunately, we already have several answers to Black’s question about where political violence can lead. We’ve seen far too many recent examples of violence tinged with poltics — the “Unite the Right” protestor who killed a woman counterprotesting when he drove his car into a crowd, the anti-Trump gunman who shot and injured five people during a Republican congressional baseball team practice, and the Trump supporter who mailed pipe bombs to Democrats are several examples.
It’s clear that no political ideology has a monopoly on the aggression and violence rippling through our political discourse. Everyone has a responsibility to avoid and discourage it. Political violence, in any form, cannot become excusable or accepted behavior.
Closer to home, there have been documented threats made against Sen. Susan Collins. A woman was found guilty in November of sending a threatening letter with a white powder to Collins’ Bangor home. And Collins said last week that she had received three death threats “considered credible that are being investigated” since her impeachment vote to acquit Trump.
This is outrageous, and it needs to stop. Voicing strong disagreement and displeasure with a public official is one thing — but it can and must be done without violence or the threat of violence.
In this climate (or any, for that matter) it is incredibly irresponsible for Bre Kidman, one of the candidates currently vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Collins in November, to feature a guillotine on their campaign merchandise. Kidman says the guillotine is a “symbol of citizens rising up against an oppressive government where only the wealthy get to make decisions.” But the machine used to decapitate political rivals in revolutionary France was and is inherently violent — and has no place in responsible politics.
Candidates and voters alike would do well to listen to Harvard professor and conservative columnist Arthur Brooks’ keynote address at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast, delivered with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi both sitting on stage.
“Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago and it is as subversive and counter-intuitive today as it was then,” Brooks said, citing the Gospel of Saint Matthew. “But the devil’s in the details. How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and the differences that we can’t seem to bridge?”
President Trump seemed to reference Brooks’ words during his own remarks at the event.
“I’m sorry, I apologize. I’m trying to learn,” Trump said. “When they impeach you for nothing, you’re supposed to like them? It’s not easy, folks. I’m doing my best.”
We recognize that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to love your enemies. But at least trying not to see political opponents as evil, and to recognize their humanity would be a good start.
2020 is going to be a chaotic year politically. It already is. Impassioned rhetoric and political action of course should be part of the democratic process. But violence and hatred must not be.
Correction: A previous version of this editorial misgendered U.S. Senate candidate Bre Kidman. Their pronouns are they, them and theirs.